GARN INTERVIEW: Monica Taylor Author of Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children
Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children hardcover and paperback available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Indigo Books (more retailers coming soon). Ebook available on Amazon.
Book: Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children
Author: Monica Taylor
Paperback: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indigo Books
GARN INTERVIEW: Author Monica Taylor
Monica Taylor is a full professor and a feminist mom. At Garn Press we appreciate Monica’s strong support for children, parents and teachers in challenging urban environments. She is also a strong advocate for her university students, and when she speaks of them she immediately lets you know how proud she is of their accomplishments and much she cares for them. Monica also cares for Playhouse, the progressive pre-school that her two sons attended and that she still supports on a regular basis.
Monica’s new Garn Press book is actually called Playhouse, and the subtitle is Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children. This is a glorious book – truly optimistic and filled with hope. Monica provides an opportunity for readers to imagine a future in which little children have joyful learning experiences that will stand them in good stead as they progress through school, and her vision of progressive preschool experiences stands in stark contrast to the skill intensive, socially and academically debilitating experiences that many young children endure in today’s preschools.
Authors and their Books
Garn Press: Do you have a favorite author?
Monica Taylor: Just one. I have so many depending on the mood I am in. Some of my favorites are A.S. Byatt, Haruki Murakami, Patti Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri. I mostly like women authors.
GP: Is there one author who has influenced your writing more than any others?
MT: Lately it has been Patti Smith. I just loved Just Kids and then M Train. She knows just how to combine the esoteric with the everyday. She is so well read and she subtly incorporates references to other work – not in a pretentious way but in an honest and appropriate way. I hear her words in my head. They evoke emotions.
GP: Do you think the relationships between authors and readers are changing?
MT: I do think they are changing but not for the worse. I think it is for the better. I think readers have more access to writers now – and to their lives – and they feel more human and real.
GP: Have you noticed any differences in your own relationships with your readers?
MT: I think similar to what I said above. With social media, I feel much more accessible and part of the global world.
GP: If you could express one thought to all your readers what would it be?
MT: Do not be afraid to feel in your body. Feelings are medicine that guide us. Also good writing should transport and inspire you.
GP: Do you have a favorite word?
MT: Ha – my students would say problematize. I would say complex.
GP: What about a memorable sentence?
MT: Nothing can be truly replicated. Not a love, not a jewel, not a single line. Patti Smith.
Writing as Part of Daily Life
GP: When do you write? Do you have a routine?
MT: So I definitely have a pattern but it is not the routine that most people talk about. I cannot write every day at the same time in the same space. It is not my way. I write in spurts and starts. I have to feel ready to write – and when I do I can write for hours on end. I won’t eat, sleep, or want to be interrupted. Although to be honest I am interrupted all of the time. I am a mother – people rely on me. So I have found that I often write in the cracks and that works for me.
I have some funny routines. I usually need to be physically in my body before I start writing – either walking, dancing, bar method, or even cleaning the house. I had the cleanest bathroom when I was writing my dissertation.
GP: How do you begin a writing project?
MT: Usually I am inspired by something I have read, experienced, or heard. This could be a text, live music, a film, or even a conversation.
GP: Do you keep notebooks? Use special paper?
MT: No – at this point I do everything on the computer. It is what I know.
GP: What about pens and pencils? Are they important?
MT: Not anymore.
GP: Do you mix up writing instruments? (Oliver Sacks never wrote on a computer. He started with handwritten notes and wrote on a typewriter.)
MT: Just a computer.
GP: Do you listen to music when you write?
MT: Sometimes- it depends on what I am writing. Writing feels physical to me – so sometimes music will help it along.
GP: Do you share your writing while you are still writing or wait until you have a draft?
MT: I am getting better at sharing my writing but this has taken a lot of time to come to. I feel very vulnerable when I share my writing so it has to be someone I trust. But I have learned a lot from my collaborators – like Emily Klein who often pushes me to let go of a piece. She has said to me on occasion: “It’s good enough” and that really helps.
GP: How does your “day job” (academic, journalist etc.) influence your writing?
MT: My day job and my life are intertwined. I don’t separate them. So how I see and interact in the world is from my socially just feminist stance which developed in my personal/professional life. My interactions with students and colleagues emerge in my writing and my parenting emerges in my teaching. My life is messy with few boundaries and therefore all of these things seep into my writing.
GP: What about ideas for books – do they percolate for years before you write, or do you work it out as your write, or perhaps a combination of both?
MT: It depends on the book. Some percolate for years and others feel like they write themselves. It depends on the topic, with whom I am writing, what the purpose is, the genre, etc.. Sometimes the most personal books are the hardest for me to let go of.
GP: What book or chapter of a book are you most proud of writing?
MT: I recently had a chapter come out that I co-wrote with Lesley Coia about how Donald Schön is a poststructural feminist. It was a lot of fun to write and we used his metaphor of the swamplands.
The role of the writer in society
GP: What does it mean to be a writer in troubled times?
MT: I really think Nina Simone explains this so well. She says artists, and I would include writers, have a responsibility in troubled times – to document what is happening in the world and provide avenues of hope and possibility. Or as Maxine Greene would say, we have to radically imagine to make change in the world.
GP: What keeps you awake at night?
MT: The future of our children – the ways in which people’s rights are being taken away if you are at all other in society. I am worried about black and brown children. I am worried about LGBTQ and gender creative youth. I am worried that marginalized youth will lose the limited space they have.
GP: Is your writing connected to present day events?
MT: I think my writing attempts to document what is happening but also provides examples of what could be – finding optimism in schools with young people and amazing teachers.
GP: If you wrote a book about the future – the way you imagine it will be – what kind of book would you write?
MT: It’s funny because this is not something that I would do. I like living in the present – in the day to day.
Early Reading Experiences
GP: What are your earliest memories of words?
MT: I would say being with my grandparents who never stopped talking to me – there was a running narrative of everything that we did together – and everything seemed exciting and interesting.
GP: Do you remember your first books?
MT: Absolutely. My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher so she had tons of picture books that we would read together. She also had a little portable record player, and many of the books we read were on record so if she were busy, I could listen myself. Some of my favorites were:
Bread and Jam for Frances
Make Way for Ducklings
Tikki Tikki Tembo
The Story of Ferdinand
Caps for Sale
Frog and Toad
GP: What about your earliest memories of someone reading to you?
MT: It was definitely my grandmother. She read to me all of the time.
GP: Was there a moment when you first knew you could read?
MT: I think I was 3 when I started reading and I know I was delighted by it. My mom and grandparents were always reading and I wanted to be like them.
GP: What did you like about reading?
MT: I loved escaping into another world and feeling what the characters felt. I loved thinking about how they resolved problems. And when I got older and life got more complicated at home, I read to escape and be somewhere else. Or when I was lonely I read for company. I think that I still do this. It is my absolute favorite thing to do. I read fiction after a long day of academic reading or writing.
GP: What did you dislike about reading?
GP: Did you have a favorite author when you were a young child?
MT: I was such an avid reader. I loved Frances in the Hobans’ books. I loved Frog and Toad.
GP: Did you read book series as a child?
MT: Definitely- I loved the Little House on the Prairie Books, the Little Women series, and the Bronte novels. I also loved Daphne du Maurier.
GP: Do you remember your first reading lessons when you went to school?
MT: Not at all. I think I learned so much with my grandmother that school was not memorable. Also I went to a bilingual French/English school until 2nd grade so there was a lot of learning in French – and traditional French school culture is quite rigid and strict.
GP: Can you remember doing research for a project in school?
MT: I have wonderful memories of writing for the school newspaper in 9th grade. I loved it and the advisor was a pretty hip young woman who would let us write pieces about any topic. In those days, in NYC, we were going to parties at clubs like Studio 54. She allowed me to interview Baird Jones who was a party promoter. I felt so cool and grown up and I still have the article.
GP: Did you study for exams – if so how?
MT: Oh yes. In high school, I had my rituals. I would sit on the floor in my room with music blaring. I would copy my notes and memorize. It was miserable.
Early Writing/Drawing Experiences
GP: What are your earliest memories of writing at home?
MT: So there was a picture of Charlie Brown on the closet door in my grandmother’s kitchen that I drew at 21/2 and I wrote a few invented spelling words.
GP: Did you like to draw?
MT: I did but I was never very good at it.
GP: Did you paint as a child?
MT: I did but again I always thought that I wasn’t very good. In high school I took it up again and really enjoyed it.
GP: Do you still have any of your early writing, drawings, or paintings?
MT: A few remnants of my childhood yes!
GP: Can you remember being taught to write at school?
MT: Again I feel like I learned how to write with my grandmother.
GP: Do you remember if writing and penmanship were muddled? They often are.
MT: Oh yes – and at Fleming, the French school, there were a lot of rules about penmanship. And being left handed made it even more difficult.
GP: Was drawing linked with writing?
MT: At home but not so much in school.
GP: Do you have memories of learning to write an essay, a story, or a poem?
MT: I think some of my best writing teachers were in high school. I was living in Texas for my junior and senior year and we had trimesters. We studied some of the most interesting themes – poetry, children’s lit, journey, semantics – I just loved those classes. And we wrote genres to replicate what we wrote. In order to separate mechanics from content, the whole school had a writing guide that had codes for different sorts of errors. The entire school used it and although it was a bit tortuous to experience I really think it helped me as a writer.
GP: What about taking tests – can you remember taking them?
MT: Yes – I hated any tests where I had to memorize anything. And believe it or not I was a great math student in high school until calculus, when I was one of 3 girls in a class of all boys and the teacher refused to help me.
GP: Did you have to fill in bubbles on multiple-choice tests?
MT: A bit yes – I think there was always a multiple choice section on tests.
GP: Can you remember if you had other sorts of tests? Short answers? Essays?
MT: There were always sections for essays – especially in history and English.
GP: What advice would you give teachers if they asked you how they could create opportunities for their students to become enthusiastic readers and writers?
MT: Invite students to read things in which they are interested and write things for authentic purposes.
Book: Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children
Author: Monica Taylor
Paperback (early release): Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indigo Books
About the Book: Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children
Pete Seeger once said: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” In many ways, writing a book about my family’s experiences at Playhouse, a cooperative pre-school founded in 1951, is in fact telling an optimistic story that has the potential to inspire others, early childhood teachers and parents alike, to search for, create, or contribute to progressive learning environments for their own children and students.
Playhouse serves as more than just a school for children. It is a learning community for parents, where they can learn and embrace progressive models of education. This type of parental education is more important now than ever before, especially in the face of parental opt out movements and objections to standardized testing and curriculum like the common core standards.
Parents and early childhood teachers need to educate themselves about the tenets of democratic and progressive schooling, and there is very little written for them. Early childhood teachers often graduate with certification but are unsure of how to implement this progressive pedagogy in their classrooms or how even to find schools where these types of practices are encouraged. They may have been prepared to teach in a progressive way but are unsure of how to apply these ideas in the classroom with 15 or more little ones in front of them.
Finally, with the Core Curriculum Standards and their aligned standardized tests dictating the curriculum and teaching in public schools, parents and early childhood educators need a platform to innovate schools for their children/students. This optimistic telling serves as a reminder for us all that even in this tumultuous storm of standards and testing, progressive preschools with deep commitments to social justice exist, are thriving, and are available.
Bill Ayers’ Endorsement of Playhouse
“Playhouse is in part the inspiring portrait of a real school with a particularly rich and powerful history and a tangible presence in a concrete time and a particular place—and it’s so much more. With an ethnographer’s eye and an oral historian’s ear, with the passion of a memoirist and the urgency of an advocate, Monica Taylor invites us into a community of children, reminding us that in our anxious, hurry-up world, the magic of a child’s growth is precious and cannot be forced. She evokes a perennial question, urgent for these modern times: how shall we respond to the dreams of youth? Her answer comes to life on every page.”– William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society.
Deborah Meier’s Endorsement of Playhouse
“Monica Taylor’s Playhouse is just what we need – a vivid picture of what good early childhood “schooling” looks like. Here’s the alternative to prepping 4 year olds with “academics.” As she shows us, it is indeed possible to build on children’s incredible intellectual efforts to make sense of the world rather than stifling them. Bravo, Monica!” – Deborah Meier, Education reform leader, recipient of the 1987 MacArthur Fellowship Award for her work in public education.